WASHINGTON — In the annals of murder trials, few testimonies can rival the impact of slain teenager Trayvon Martin's mother Sybrina Fulton: “I heard my son screaming.”
She was referring to the voice on an audio recording of a 911 call that has been at the center of the prosecution's case against George Zimmerman, accused of fatally shooting Martin during a scuffle.
If the voice heard screaming in the background belonged to the dead teen, as the prosecution claims, then it is less easy to believe that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense, as he claims.
If the voice belongs to Zimmerman, then one might conclude that he felt sufficiently threatened to squeeze the trigger. Zimmerman, 29, was acting as a volunteer neighborhood watchman the night he shot Martin, 17, whom he has described as acting suspiciously.
Most of this story is familiar to anyone with access to a television, computer or newspaper, so I won't repeat the history here. Instead, I turn your attention to a surprise witness Friday who may prove to be the most powerful of all: maternal instinct.
This instinct was most vivid in the person of Martin's mother, obviously, but the witness I refer to is both more amorphous and exponentially more powerful. It is the combined, maternal synchrony of the jurors — all six of them women, five of them mothers. Each must have felt an involuntary pang when Fulton uttered those five words.
They will have to judge those words by their own instincts, without benefit of expert analysis, which the judge has ruled inadmissible. They'll have to decide whether the accused or the mother is right: Was the person in distress Zimmerman or Martin?
Second-guessers have an array of questions to entertain: Would a mother lie about such a thing? Could she? Would she wish another man convicted on the basis of her sense of things? Can she know with certainty that the voice in the background, barely audible, is that of her son and not of the other man?
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